Chess: Michael Adams still leads with two rounds left in London Classic

<span>Photograph: The Guardian</span>
Photograph: The Guardian

With two rounds of nine to go this weekend in the London Classic, the eight-time British champion Michael Adams, 52, leads the top-seeded Indian Dommaraju Gukesh, 17, and Iran’s Amin Tabatabaei, 22, by half a point.

Leaders after round seven were Adams (England) 5, Gukesh (India) and Tabatabaei (Iran) 4.5, Mateusz Bartel (Poland) 4.

Adams received a full point swing in round six when Jules Moussard inexplicably blundered at move 32 when a simple pawn move would have kept a winning position for the Frenchman.

Gukesh, who needs to win the Classic outright to qualify for next April’s world title Candidates, beat Luke McShane in round six when the Englishman blundered in time pressure, but was well held in round seven by the youngest competitor Shreyas Royal, 14, who at one stage had a clear advantage.

Tabatabaei joined the leading group by an imaginative attacking game against Nikita Vitiugov. The former Russian champion and now England No1 has been right out of form in the Classic, missing several opportunities and failing to win a game.

Rounds six and seven proved a disaster for Hans Niemann, as the controversial US grandmaster, 20, mishandled the Ruy Lopez Berlin and was well beaten by the Ukrainian, Andrei Volokitin, then blundered badly to lose to Bartel, capturing 44 Qxc2?? when 44 Qh6+ followed by 45 e7 would have won easily.

The Classic, which has been characterised by fighting chess, sharp games, and unforced errors, now looks set up for Adams, the oldest competitor. The Cornishman, nicknamed “the spider”, has maintained his own subtle strategic style. He meets McShane and Royal in the final two rounds.

Earlier, Gukesh dropped a full point when he blundered against Moussard by 26 Rd2?? (26 Qd4!) allowing the winning counter 26...Bxa3!

Niemann came to London straight from his career-best result at Zagreb. The US 20-year-old scored a brilliancy against Royal, sacrificing a knight then both rooks for a mating attack, before his collapse in rounds six and seven.

There was a Christmas party after round four, where Niemann and Tabatabaei played one-minute bullet games before leaving together, clearly best buddies. Paired together the next day, they rattled out a known and likely pre-arranged drawing line, finishing with more time on the clocks than when they started (due to per-move increment).

Royal needed a 4/9 score for a grandmaster norm, and looked like achieving it when he won a fine strategic game against Tabatabaei. With 2.5/7, his norm chance is probably gone, but the Classic has still been a promising result for the 14-year-old.

Meanwhile, what news of Magnus Carlsen? Norway’s world No 1 will defend his online Champions Tour title over-the-board in Toronto from Saturday until 16 December. Carlsen’s seven rivals for the $500,000 prize fund are led by the world Nos 2 and 3, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura, and also include Wesley So, Alireza Firouzja, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Nodirbek Abdusattorov.

Following Toronto, Carlsen will head to Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where he will defend his World Rapid and World Blitz titles between 26 and 31 December

This week, the No 1 has been warming up for Toronto. Carlsen won Titled Tuesday with a near perfect 10.5/11, conceding just one draw to Firouzja. On Wednesday, he broke Nakamura’s recent mark of 3332 for the highest rating ever recorded on the site by reaching 3340.

Two schoolgirls tied for first in last weekend’s UK Women’s Blitz Championship at Leamington Spa. Elis Dicen, 13, took the title on tie-break from Bodhana Sivanandan, eight. Both scored 11/14, but Dicen won their individual game, one of the best of the tournament. This was 3+2 blitz: three minutes per player for the entire game, plus a two seconds per move increment.

The pair finished ahead of the seasoned international opposition of the 2019 world girls under-18 blitz champion, Kamila Hryshchenko, and the former Moscow women’s champion. Elmira Mirzoeva, who were fourth and fifth. It was a double success for Sivanandan, who last year finished joint second to Mirzoeva and shared the 2022 English championship title. All 15 finalists had been previously first or second in regional qualifiers.

Both English girls have made rapid progress recently. Dicen won her open section at the Delancey UK Schools Challenge final at Blenheim Palace, the only girl in the competition’s history to do so ahead of all the boys, while Sivanandan made a clean 33/33 sweep in the world under-eight classical, rapid and blitz championships, and scored an impressive 7/11 against much higher rated male experts at Riga, Latvia.

More than two decades after the vintage years when the trio of Harriet Hunt, Ruth Sheldon and Jovanka Houska all won world or European titles at under-18 or under-20 level, the future looks bright again for English women’s and girls chess. The British women’s champion, Lan Yao, 22, is a rising star of the international game.

Related: ‘It was strange’: Iranian chess players meet across board in exile

At junior level, the work of She Plays to Win, headed by the England women’s coach, IM Lorin d’Costa, is bearing fruit. She Plays to Win aims to attract more girls into the game through all-female online tournaments and weekly Sunday simuls in London by the French multi-champion Sophie Milliet.

Female chess in England is already youthful. More than half of England’s top 50 Fide-rated women were born in 2000 or later, as against only 12% of men. The English Chess Federation and its director of women’s chess, Aga Milewska, are encouraging rising players with the help of chess charities and the new £500,000 government grant.

Internationally, England women trail in 20th place behind the top western European nations France and Germany as well as the world leaders China and India, but results are set to improve due to Sivanandan’s promise as well as an emerging generation of talented teenagers.

Additionally to Dicen and Sivanandan, the rating trajectories of Eugenia Karas, 15, Abigail Weersing, 17, Nina Pert, 15, Anusha Subramanian, 14, and Tashika Arora, 15, all show potential to reach the England women’s team in the next few years.

3897: 1 Rxb7! Qxb7 2 Qf6+ Kg4 3 Qe6+ Kh5 4 Qxg8 Rg7 (Qg7 holds out longer) 5 Qf8 d4 6 e6 c5 7 Qxg7! and Black resigned (Qxg7 8 e7 and queens).